The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon Against Kutuzov

Author(s) : MIKABERIDZE Alexander
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From the publishers:
On 7 September 1812 at Borodino, 75 miles west of Moscow, the armies of the Russian and French empires clashed in one of the climactic battles of the Napoleonic Wars. This horrific – and controversial – contest has fascinated historians ever since. The survival of the Russian army after Borodino was a key factor in Napoleon's eventual defeat and the utter destruction of the French army of 1812. In this […] new study, Napoleonic historian Alexander Mikaberidze reconsiders the 1812 campaign and retells the terrible story of the Borodino battle as it was seen from the Russian point of view. His […] investigation of this critical episode in Napoleon's invasion of Russia provides the reader with a fresh perspective on the battle and a broader understanding of the underlying reasons for the eventual Russian triumph.
About the author:
Alexander Mikaberidze is assistant professor of European history at Louisiana State University (Shreveport). He is author of The Russian Officer Corps of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815 and The Czar's General: The Memoirs of a Russian General in the Napoleonic Wars by Alexey Yermolov.
Book review by Thomas Zacharis, independent scholar.

“The Battle of Borodino, known to the French as the Battle of Moscowa, after the river by the village 75 miles west of Moscow, holds the distinction of being, even by the most conservative casualty estimates, the bloodiest single day of combat in military history. About 280,000 soldiers took part in the confrontation on September 7, 1812, with casualties generally estimated at 70,000-80,000 on both sides. 

In this his latest book, Alexander Mikaberidze, professor of European history at Mississippi state and Florida state Universities and lecturer on Napoleonic Wars for the U.S. Naval War College, focused primarily on the battle itself. The author also does very well, however, at describing its prelude, the Battle Shevardino on September 5.

One aspect that Mikaveridze's study clarifies, by statistical tables, is the sociological difference between the French senior officers, who rose primarily from the bourgeoisie in the wake of France's Revolution, and their Russian counterparts, who mainly came from the aristocracy. He also notes the differences within the Russian officer corps between those of “German” origin and those of indigenous ancestry—a factor that influenced the replacement of Prince Mikhail B. Barclay de Tolly as commander-in-chief of the Russian Army with the 65 year old Mikhail Kutuzov on August 20, 1812.

Mikaberidze pays more than usual attention to Kutuzov's canny diplomatic talents, exemplified by his declaration that the Russian Army was the real winner at Borodino. In reality the battle, costly though it was to the Napoleon's multi-European, imperial Grande Armée, ended as a great tactical victory for the French emperor, in spite of the fact that, according to the author's research, the Russian had more troops — about 150,000 men against 128,000 “Frenchmen”. 
In the strategic long run, however, Napoleon had lost. While the Russian Army was able to rebuild itself, the Grande Armée could not. Reading the book left me pondering the question of why Napoleon even wanted to occupy the old capital of Russia, Moscow, when by his own “Napoleonic” logic for the direction of an offensive, he could have moved onto Russia's contemporary capital, St. Petersburg. More fundamental is the question of why Napoleon invaded Russia in the first place. Mikaberidze gives a list of reasons in his “Background” chapter, but I don't believe any of these to be the real one.

The battle is separated into three phases and four sectors to help the reader to follow and understand its progress. The book also offers a wealth of information on tangential subjects as “The Museum of Borodino”, “Leo Tolstoy and the Battle of Borodino”, and “The Russian effort to use air balloons”. The book includes 61 engravings and many military maps and diagrams of Russian fortifications, as well as a fully catalogued order of battle of the French and Russian units and their commanders.

Any reader who is interested in the battle will find this book a perfect description of that titanic struggle, which one might well say in the context of its time pitted almost of all Europe against the Russian Empire—and from which the losing army not only survived, but eventually carried the war back into Napoleon's France.”

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Place and publisher :
Barnsley: Pen and Sword
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